Whether you’re hooked on online gaming yourself or just curious to see how the 50 million people who call themselves avid gamers live, Second Skin is the documentary for you. Making its online premiere on Hulu and SnagFilms this week, it offers a close look into the lives of three different groups: guys who live, work and play together; a couple who owe their relationship to online gaming; and an addict trying to change his ways. To introduce us to this virtual world, Hulu spoke to the film’s director and editor, Juan Carlos Pineiro Escoriaza, about the film and this cultural phenomenon, which he says isn’t a passing trend. In addition to its week-long online release, Second Skin is also opening in select theaters August 7, with DVDs going on sale at the end of the month. Learn more at secondskinfilm.com/theatrical. — Rebecca Harper (), Editor
Can you tell us about the premise of Second Skin?
Juan Carlos Pineiro Escoriaza: Absolutely. Second Skin is a documentary on virtual worlds. Basically, it’s an intimate look at their lives and how they live both in the virtual space and in the real space. It takes on three storylines: one is a story in Fort Wayne, Ind., of four gamers who live together, work together, game together, pretty much do everything together. That’s sort of a coming of age tale where, essentially, one is about to get married, and another is having two babies. So it’s about their lives changing. The second story that is followed is of two lovers who met in EverQuest, and they said “I love you” without actually seeing each other before in real life. It kind of shows them as they meet each other in real life and what ensues after that. Finally, a third story is of a recovering game addict who is having trouble, whom I met at a place called Safe Haven, an online gamers’ anonymous-type place. It’s a 12-step program trying to help them get better. And from there, it’s his progression as he decides to leave and do something else and figure out a way to cope.
What sparked your interest in this topic?
I guess it was three or four years ago that my brother actually was working at a school, and his friend was playing. He got us into this game, Star Wars Galaxy. We started playing the game, and after a month or two, I [realized] it would have taken years, literally to become a Jedi Master. I just didn’t have the time to pursue it. But looking at him, he was actually about to get married himself — he was engaged to get married — and he was the mayor of a [virtual] town. The town was large and he had a lot of responsibilities inside the game, to the point where he needed to leave school at lunch to actually go back to the game to check out what was going on and whether he needed to address a situation or any number of things.
So it was there that we [noticed that] there’s a really interesting thing happening here in this space where, essentially, you’re getting something, achievement out of a game and you may or not be getting that in your real life. It was something to just see and say “Wait a minute, what’s going here” and take a look. Afterwards, it was just about researching and going further and, you know, the crew and I just started really looking at gold farming and all these other aspects. It was such a rich web to take a look at, it really just lent itself to a film, so we thought there’s no way we can’t make this right now.
How did you get in touch with the film’s subjects?
Some of it happened pretty organically, and then other times, it was just through a lot of emailing, forums, and things like that. One of the biggest places, and this was especially true for both of the producers, Victor [Pineiro] and Peter [Brauer], they just scoured forums and boards. We all looked into these different areas to see who was out there in this world, and posting casting calls in these different places.
We started getting a couple responses trickling in. That’s how the Fort Wayne boys actually got in touch with us — they saw it posted and said, we’re actually doing something over here, so that’s how we found them. And then, with the couple, it was actually on Terra Nova blogs, which is an area for discussing virtual spaces. Heather, who is one of the subjects in the film, had posted that she was just having this budding relationship with someone in the game, and they were just beginning to talk about whether they were going to see each other in real life. So we caught her right at that moment in real life where things were about to make a significant change. And that’s really what we were looking for, a significant change in their lives, at that exact moment, one that we could come in and document and understand.
The third one was actually quite organic. Liz Woolley, who runs Safe Haven and Online Gamers Anonymous (OLG-Anon), olganon.com, she actually invited us to come interview her. She had someone at her house who was recovering. He said that he would do an interview, and it just kind of worked out from there. From that point, we said, “This guy’s unbelievably interesting,” and I [wanted] to interview him further, so we said, “How about it?” That’s how it went.
So what do you think makes Massively Multiplayer Online games, or MMOs, so appealing right now?
Online gaming is, I think, probably one of those things that’s more on the edge of where we’re going to be. Rather than what makes it appealing now, it’s that it’s becoming more and more appealing as time goes on. So we keep on living in these virtual spaces for longer periods of time. Whether that be Facebook or MySpace or Twitter, or any of this social media, really what these virtual spaces do is allow us to communicate with others in a much better way. It allows us to essentially to be in touch all the time with more people over a longer space of time. The area is folded, you can meet and see and just check up everyone all at once. Online games are no different in that sense than social media — the only difference is that it’s more engaging, because you’re actually out there on adventures with people you’ve met in the space. So there’s actually a sense that, I think, where we’re going is more toward something like that, rather than it being popular at the moment, like a fad that’s just going to go away. It’s something that’s going to be more and more ingrained in our society as we get further and further involved in online spaces.
Do you think online games are a healthy activity, or do you think there can be some harm to them?
I think that, for the most part, it’s like anything. It’s like food, it’s like gambling, it’s like smoking, or shopping, or any behavioral addiction can have negative effects when taken to extremes. So do most people fall into that category? Absolutely not. Most people live very happy lives just gaming. But then, of course, there are those people that do go overboard, and that’s a lot of what we hear in the media. There’s this sensationalization of that problem. So hardcore gamers, many times, get that stigma that gaming’s bad, whereas for almost everyone, that’s not true. Essentially what happens in the real world is true online. There’s a microcosm, that small group that it does happen to.
What are you working on these days?
At the moment, I’m just in the process of creating a company that’s based on developing marketing experiences. The company that created Second Skin is Pure West, and then at the moment it’s being developed to be a full-fledged marketing-web-film company that’s going to take larger projects and create not just content like film, but create viral marketing campaigns around that content.
Film wise, we’re actually working on a project called Six Sick Hipsters. It’s an adaptation of a novel that’s about a serial killer who’s offing the elite hipsters in Williamsburg.